As the one-year anniversary of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville approaches, efforts to pass legislation by members of the Virginia General Assembly in response to the violence and deaths that occurred that day have been met with frustration and failure.
Since the disastrous events surrounding the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond has rejected several proposed bills which, if ratified into law, would have enforced gun restrictions and banned paramilitary activity at future white supremacist rallies, as well as allowed cities such as Charlottesville to remove Confederate monuments at their own discretion, according to the bill’s sponsors.
The following bills were introduced by members of the State Senate and House of Delegates whose districts cover the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as other Assembly members:
- In response to the number of people seen carrying high capacity rifles in downtown Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, Delegate David Toscano proposed two bills which would have authorized Virginia towns and cities to restrict firearms in public spaces. House Bill 1019 would have allowed any locality to prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms or ammunition in public spaces during a permitted event, or an event that would otherwise require a permit. House Bill 1009 would have added Charlottesville and Albemarle County to a list of localities with restricted firearm use, banning specific firearms and shotguns. Similar legislation was proposed in the state senate by Senator R. Creigh Deeds (bills require approval by both the Virginia House and Senate before they are sent to the governor for signature).
- A bill outlawing paramilitary activity, such as that displayed by several militia groups at the 2017 rally, was sponsored by Senator Louise Lucas.
- Senator Deeds also authored two related bills that were inspired by events in Charlottesville, where armed militia members created confusion as to whether they were law enforcement officials. Senate Bill 666 would have made it a crime to impersonate members of the U.S. military and other public safety personnel and Senate Bill 667 would have restricted the wearing of attire and weaponry giving the false impression that the wearer is an official law enforcement officer or member of the armed forces.
- Delegate Toscano also drafted a bill last January that would have granted localities the authority to either keep or remove Confederate monuments (the state senate bill was drafted by Senator Jennifer Wexton). At the time, Toscano stated “White supremacists came to my city last summer and wreaked deadly violence in the name of a statue. My bill would empower localities to remove these statues if they so choose, or to keep them if they want to as well.”
Every single one of these bills died in committee.
The first “Unite the Right” rally took place August 11 and 12, 2017. On the night of August 11, a torchlit march of white supremacists and neo-Nazis occurred at the University of Virginia campus, during which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” and made monkey noises at black counter-protestors. The next day, at the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protester, was struck and killed by a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr. He faces both state and federal charges related to the incident. Two Virginia State Police troopers monitoring the day’s events died when their helicopter crashed.
Another gathering of the racist “alt-right,” with events both in Charlottesville and Washington, D.C., is scheduled for the weekend of August 11-12, 2018. The status of the Charlottesville demonstration remains unclear. Jason Kessler, who helped organize the 2017 rally, sued the city of Charlottesville after officials turned down his bid to return to mark the event’s anniversary. A federal judge has set a hearing for July 24.
Photo by Felix Lipov/Alamy